PAUL SQUIRE PHOTO | State education department regional associate Michael Schmidt and Riverhead superintendent Nancy Carney speak at an open meeting with parents Wednesday night.
Riverhead School District officials are removing in-school suspension in the elementary schools, superintendent Nancy Carney said before members of the local Special Education Parent-Teacher Association Wednesday night.
Ms. Carney also said teachers and administrators will be more communicative to parents about student discipline, and pledged to do the “absolute best” to give each student in the district “the education they deserve.”
Her comments came during a special meeting more than a month after a state probe found the district violated suspension regulations.
Ms. Carney and Michael Schmidt, a regional associate from the state education department, met with about 25 parents at an open forum to answer questions and explain the next step after a July state probe found Pulaski Street School did not follow proper procedure when disciplining a student diagnosed with attention hyperactivity deficit disorder.
The investigation also revealed that the school denied other students with disabilities the protections and due process they are afforded under state rules.
Ms. Carney and Mr. Schmidt were invited to the meeting by Riverhead Special Education Parent Teacher Association president Arlene Gagliano, whose organization hosted the nearly two-hour event at Riley Avenue School.
Ms. Carney told the assembled crowd that the district had already taken steps to address the state’s findings, such as staffing all detention rooms with certified teachers instead of security guards, as well as contacting the families of the children whose rights were violated.
In-school suspensions have also been eliminated for grades K through 6, Ms. Carney said.
She also said that Aquebogue resident Yolanda Thompson, whose initial complaint concerning her son began the investigation — and who sat in the front row at the meeting — helped the district by illuminating the incorrect procedures.
Ms. Carney also encouraged other parents to come forward with their concerns.
“We’re not going to hide from anything,” Ms. Carney said. “We have things to improve … a parent needs to get a phone call [when their child is disciplined].”
But Ms. Carney also stressed that disciplining students is not a simple matter, and urged parents to act in a “partnership” with the district to make sure disruptive kids not only received a proper education, but didn’t disturb learning for other students.
Mr. Schmidt told those in attendance the district will now have to submit written evidence to the state in October, proving the district is taking steps to come into compliance with state regulations.
Parents at the open forum asked what steps the district would take to discipline children in the elementary and secondary schools since in-school suspension was now ruled out.
Ms. Carney said the district will use after-school detention, positive reinforcement and plans tailored to each student to curb unruly behavior.
A one-on-one aide would be one of the tools used if the others steps aren’t working, she added.
Another parent asked if the state would check on the district in future years, since it violated state regulations. Mr. Schmidt said the state likely wouldn’t investigate again unless the state received another complaint from a parent, though he stressed that parents should speak to administrators in the district first before going to the state.
A mother commented at the meeting that the district “pushed [her] away” after she complained to administrators about her son’s problems with bullies at Aquebogue Elementary School. The mother said her son was “brutally beaten” on a school bus and claims the district has not punished the children involved.
Ms. Carney said in an interview that she and other district officials have spoken to the parent many times before and are “working to reach a resolution” with her soon.
Ms. Thompson spoke at the meeting as well, and said administrators at Pulaski Street School should have used “common sense” to notify her when her child was suspended more than a dozen times.
She also said teachers in the schools should be aware of state regulations.
“I don’t disagree with you,” Ms. Carney said, adding that the district made sure teachers and administrators were trained on how to follow the state’s policies and the new Code of Conduct drafted by the district.
Ms. Carney and Ms. Thompson spoke politely in private both before and after the meeting.
Ms. Thompson, who is currently in court fighting a restraining order filed against her by a district teacher, said she couldn’t comment on the event.
Ms. Gagliano said she was pleased with how the question and answer session went, saying that it was a step forward for the district.
“I really wanted this meeting to bring closure to the whole thing,” she said. “I really commend the Thompsons for bringing this forward … and at the same time I commend Ms. Carney. [The district] always owned it, they didn’t try to deny it.”
Ms Gagliano was optimistic the district and parents could work together to prevent further incidents from happening.
“We’re going to come out stronger, we’re going to come out better after this,” she said.